Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Evergleam, Wisconsin Classic

Patty, with Chatty Cathy and the Evergleam aluminum Christmas tree, 1960.

To be honest, I never thought I would wax nostalgic about a four foot aluminum Christmas tree, something my ten-year-old purist self thought of as an abomination.  I loved real trees, tall ones that grazed the ceiling, smelled all piney and cold, and eventually got all prickly and brown and dropped all their needles into the carpet. I loved it when my parents added bubble lights, and we got to toss on silver icicles, when I gather were made from lead.

I took this photo in 1960, the year I turned ten.  Even then I was pestering people to pose for pictures I took with by Brownie camera, and my younger sister Patty stood with her new Chatty Cathy doll.  The snapshot was originally in color, but it faded so badly that I scanned it, converted it to black and white, and bumped up the saturation on my photo editing program.  Suddenly I could really see the card table with the Christmas tablecloth on it, the thin curtains in our living room, the matching flannel pjs my sister and I had, the ornaments on the tree.  It's funny to me that right now, as I type, I have a four foot artificial tree on a little round table, and some of the same ornaments are hanging on it.  Yup, the very same ones.  I had that little glass lamp chimney for a long time too - Mom made it by gluing on red, white, and black felt, to make it look like Santa.  Sort of.  Eventually it broke - maybe accidentally -  or maybe not.

Anyway, Mom wanted an artificial tree, so she drove in to Elkhorn, went to Gambles and brought home the box.  I suppose having a ready tree, one that only cost $10 and could be used year ofter year sounded like a wise use of scarce cash and time.  Dad didn't love going out after milking a barn full of cows to lug home a pine tree and then mess around with erecting it inside.  I also imagine that Mom just didn't have the energy to deal with an infant, a toddler, a seven and a ten-year-old, and also decorate a drafty and small farm house. The first year the Evergleam went up she placed it in my little brother and sister's playpen, to keep it safe from their curious fingers.  I hated the silver tree, but she put it up for several years before the shiny "needles" got looking dusty and some of the branches that fit into holes drilled in the truck were damaged or lost.  We had a few live trees up through the time I was in college, but once she and Dad moved into the ranch house at the end of the driveway up near the road, after Grandpa moved to the county home, and finally died, they went to green artificial trees for good.

These old aluminum trees have had something of a revival lately, and the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison has a big show of the trees.  The Evergleam trees were made in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, so they have a local connection.  Plus the 1950s and 1960s have receded far enough into the faltering memories of the Baby Boomers and their surviving parents, and are just history to everyone else, so that the decades have acquired something of a Mad Men cachet.  Sort of like looking at those eyars through a rotating color wheel, or 3-D glasses.  I almost wish I had one to put up today, but they've gotten too darned expensive.

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